Sunday, August 25, 2013

Introducing Viva Timucua: The Other Anniversary

This year marks the anniversaries of two important events in Florida’s history. One you've surely heard about. The other you probably have not. One spawned festivals and lectures across the State and nationally (even internationally). The other has gone unnoticed by all but the most knowledgeable Florida historians. But what makes these two anniversaries especially important, the reason I'm mentioning them together, is that they are intimately related. In fact, we can't honestly and fully discuss one without mention of the other.    
As you've probably guessed, one of these events is "Viva Florida," the state-sponsored commemoration of the 500th anniversary of Ponce de Leon’s discovery of Florida. In 1513, de Leon, waded ashore (probably somewhere near St. Augustine) and claimed the land that had belonged to the Timucua people and their ancestors for nearly 14,000 years. He renamed it, "La Florida."

 It was a fateful event, not only for the Spaniards who had unknowingly added a continent to their real estate portfolio, but also for the Timucua. The bewildered natives had no way of knowing that de Leon was just the first of a virtual stampede of explorers, soldiers and colonists from many foreign lands that would soon follow. Nor could they have known that, in just two and a half centuries, these newcomers would erase them from this land. We've heard this story so many times about so many tribes, we know it by heart—disease, warfare, slavery, cruel mistreatment, forced rejection of long-held beliefs, forced acceptance of an unfamiliar religion. Each is a wrenching tragedy that typically ends with a destitute band of people clinging  to life and to the last vestiges of their once-proud culture, until something—one last epidemic, one last betrayal, one last massacre of men women and children—ends them. And always, a hollow justification. 

The Timucua's final tragedy lasted exactly 250 years. It ended on the docks of St. Augustine in 1763. England had recently won possession of Florida and now nearly all of the residents of Spanish Florida emigrated to Cuba. With them went the last 89 full-blooded Timucuan men, women and children. Those who survived the journey found disease, starvation and squalid living conditions in their new home. Within four years, all were dead. The last full-blooded Timucuana man Juan Alonso Cabaledied in Cuba in 1767.

This is also the 250th anniversary of the Timucua's departure from Florida.
There’s something uncanny about the symmetry of these two anniversaries. The fact that this year marks the 500th anniversary of the story’s beginning and the 250th anniversary of its end, and that the story itself lasted exactly 250 years, seems almost too perfect for something so tragically imperfect. It's the kind of thing that would  have made an excellent foundation for a dual commemoration that gave full, unwavering focus on the tragedy. It could have been a well-balanced acknowledgement of both events focused on exploring the many facets of this complicated story. In fairness, the Viva Florida campaign has done some of that. But, it has been an open-ended approach that simply begins with de Leon's arrival and explores everything that has happened in the 500 years since. In short, it has been a grand re-telling of Florida's history. For me, the uncanny symmetry of these two events would have made for a perfect framework around which to tell the full, unbiased story of what happened to Florida's natives.  

But rather than bemoan this missed opportunity, I prefer to use this pair of anniversaries as a good excuse to pay homage to the native Floridians and learn what we can about them and their intimate knowledge of this land. Toward that end, Adventure Outpost will devote much of the next several months to exploring the story of the Timucua's last days. We'll do it the same way we explore all of Florida’s wild stories—by getting out there and exploring the sites where they happened. I'm calling this series of tours, "Viva Timucua."

For those of you who don’t have a great love of history (don’t feel alone, that’s most of you), I should stress that these tours will essentially be like all my other tours. The main difference will be that the pre-trip “talk” that I usually give (only about 5 – 10 minutes) will focus on that part of the “Viva Timucua” story that pertains to that day’s trip. On the water, these will be the same relaxed, casual (and usually spread-out) paddle trips that we always do. As always, those who want to hear about some of the plants and animals we’re passing can stay close to me, while those who prefer to be away from the group are free to do so. Our trips are always about going at your own pace and hearing as much or as little as you want.
Some examples of the trips I’m planning to do as part of this “Viva Timucua” series are:
“The Dunes.” On this paddle we’ll explore an area southeast of St. Augustine that witnessed the two keystone events in this story—de Leon’s arrival and the Timucuas departure. These were the two events that marked the beginning and the end of this 250 year story. At our lunch/stretch break, we’ll poke around a bit in the dunes and examine some of the amazing plants (and animals?) that thrive in this harsh environment. (this is the trip we’re doing this Sunday, 8/04/13)
 “Ft. Mose.” This paddle will take us into the marshes north of St. Augustine to the site of the first free black settlement in N. America. The inhabitants of the Ft. Mose settlement  boarded boats at the beach of their small island and sailed out to board the larger boats that would take them, along with the Indians and the rest of the residents of Spanish St. Augustine, to Cuba in 1763. 
“Mission Santa Fe.” This trip will take us into the remote upper reaches of Santa Fe River, past the site of the mission village of Santa Fe de Toloca, where Alonso Cabale’s parents and ancestors lived. This mission gave its name to the river.
“The Hontoon Owl.” On this tour-story we’ll explore the area around Hontoon Island and Volusia Blue Spring, which were at the southern edge of the Timucua territory. We’ll discuss the fascinating archaeology of the area, including the unique animal effigy (totem?) poles and what they may have meant to the natives.
“The Fountain of Youth.” On these springs tours we’ll talk about de Leon’s legendary quest as well as what the springs meant to the Timucuas. There will be several trips under this heading, including Ichetucknee, a section of the middle Suwannee with a very important connection to this period, and Silver Spring.
I’m sure there will be other trips in this series, but these are the ones that come to mind at this sitting.
NOTE: We are currently overhauling the website ( ), so the calendar has not yet been updated to show the "Viva Timucua" tours. If you want to know what's being planned, please e-mail me at and I'll give you the latest. The calendar should be current by early - mid September.